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A New Perspective
I hope that, after reading this novel, I will inspire at least one person to look at things from a
I stepped out of the nail salon, cautiously tip-toeing around the parking lot to find my car. It was pouring down rain, and my perfect hair that had just been styled at the salon now lay in a tangled, unattractive clump at the base of my neck. In a car beside me, I heard two girls, probably aged around 10 years old, snickering at the penguin-like style of walking I had to adopt to keep my pedicure. I turned to scowl at them, hoping this would shut them up. This only made them laugh harder, which forced me to turn around and try to ignore them. When I got to my car, I felt tears burning in my eyes. During the downpour, I had failed to close my car windows. The interior of the car was filled with a thin layer of water, and mildew was already beginning to grow on my fabricated seats. Darn. I should have gone for leather. Without thinking, I dialed my mother’s phone number into my cell phone. 26 years old; I thought; and I still can’t handle my own problems. I wasn’t surprised when she picked up on the second ring, probably expecting that I be near death. “Carla,” I sobbed into the phone, “please come help.” When she came, panicked, twenty minutes later, she looked irked. “Honey, can’t you take care of this on your own?” She asked through clenched teeth. Her lips were pursed tightly, and I could tell from her pained expression that she was wondering at what point she could leave. “Well, thanks for coming, Carla,” I spat, gesturing for her to leave. She shot me a quick look of gratitude, and hopped into her new convertible and took off. I walked over to the nearby dealership. When I arrived a half hour later, panting and exhausted, I walked over to a salesman. “Just give me…” I sucked in some more air, “The most expensive… Car…. Here….” He nodded, and returned back with the keys to a car exactly like Carla’s, except red instead of white. It had leather seats. I didn’t even bother moving my old car out of the nail salon parking lot.
Two months after the car incident at the nail salon, I got a call saying my “father” had died. “Okay,” I said when the hospital staff told me. “And no, I don’t care to know how he died,” I added. The caller seemed disgusted at my nonchalant attitude. I didn’t care, the man they call my “father” is really (or was) just some stranger who decided to whisk away my mom after my real dad had died when I was ten. I added to the caller that I would come down to visit, but only to see how much money was left for me. And then I hung up.
I drove the entire 26 minutes to the hospital, all the while thinking that if he hadn’t left me any money, this was a complete waste of time. Finally, I pulled up to the hospital. My mother was sitting outside on a metal bench, sobbing. I approached her nervously, not quite sure how to calm down an upset person. “There, there,” I said, awkwardly placing my hand between her shoulder blades. “Richard is in heaven now.” Even as I said this, we both knew I was lying. Although my mother loved Richard’s money, she never really liked him. We both chuckled, enjoying a moment of bonding together. Once we had calmed down, my mother turned to face me. “It’s not that,” she said, drying her eyes with the sleeves of her silk nightgown. “Richard’s will, it doesn’t give us any… money. It gives us… us…” She seemed almost too sad to continue. “A family trip, to Hawaii.” She spat out the word family, the very thought of it filling her with anguish. I took a sharp breath in. Typical Richard, thinking that he could mend our broken family in his grave. I looked at Carla. “And we have to go.” She added. I nodded. We sat there like this, looking sullenly into the distance, for a long time. The rest of the week was a blur. On Monday, we held a funeral service for Richard (which was basically a long, drawn-out lie about how great his life was). On Tuesday, the family decided that we would take our Hawaiian vacation on Saturday, and return the next Tuesday. I sighed heavily when I returned back to my apartment. I hadn’t gone on a vacation with my two sisters and my mom since I was 16 years old. And, besides, I hated being outdoors. Despised it. I preferred to get my “summer glow” at the local tannery, instead of sweating like a pig outside, while doing what? Walking? Sitting? To me, the outdoors really just doesn’t have much to offer. But that’s just me.
Friday night, I woke up in a cold sweat, breathing heavily and startled from a nightmare. In my dream, my family had gotten on a plane to go to Hawaii (including my real father). The plane suddenly took a sharp downhill turn. When we went to go find the pilot, we realized that it was Richard, passed out, drunk like he always was during his marriage with mom. I shivered, telling myself that it was only a dream; that I had nothing to worry about concerning my family’s Hawaiian vacation. Satisfied and calmed down, I went back to sleep. I had this same dream again and again; it played over in my mind like a broken CD, five or six times throughout the night. I was relieved when my alarm went off at 8:30 a.m. for me to start getting ready. I applied a touch of makeup, threw on some clothes, and was all ready an hour and a half later. I stole one last glance at myself in the mirror before I left. At 26, I was already starting to look like my mother. I observed wrinkle lines down my forehead, of which none of my friends were even starting to have. Although I had spent hours upon hours and thousands of dollars worth of supplies and injections trying to diminish them, I observed with great self-pity that they were probably my most prominent feature. Well, besides my shock pink lipstick and ringlet curls of course, and my stick-straight eyebrows, which I drew on every morning. I wasn’t beautiful, I thought. That’s for sure. When I was a little girl, I had always dreamed of being a beautiful ballerina, with rosy cheeks and a tight blonde bun. Now, I had given up on looking beautiful, and chose to look interesting instead. Studying myself even more closely, my coated face just inches from the bathroom mirror, I triumphantly observed that I did in fact look interesting. With a sly smile on my lips, I turned and locked the door behind me.
I got to the airport at 10:45 for our 11:30 a.m. flight. Nobody in my family was there yet except for, sigh, my oldest sister Anne, who is 30 years old. When we made eye contact, I grumpily trudged over to her and gave her a fake smile. She didn’t sense my tension with her, or chose to ignore it. “How’ve ya been?” She asked, enveloping me in a tight hug. “Good. You?” I asked, trying to sound as pleasant as possible. I stared at her harshly for a few seconds, daring her to say anything more. She nervously played with her hair extensions. I could barely even look at her after all those times that she blamed me for my father’s drinking. We stood like this for 15 minutes, until they called us to be seated on the plane. “Better get going, Anne,” I said. She looked at me, seemingly startled by the sudden conversation. “Yes,” she said, “Let’s.”
When the flight attendant explained how to fasten the seat belts, I had given up on any chance of mom or Vicky coming. It didn’t make any difference to me. I zipped up my vest, using it as a sort of a blanket, put my headphones on full blast, and fell asleep.
In my dream, I was a little girl, around seven years old. I had just turned on the radio, when a very unpleasant song came on. It was very loud, and in the background were the unmistakable screams of children and adults. I walked over to turn the radio off, but the machine had a kind of a force field around it. Then the radio switched channels. “Ashley, Ashley, Ashley!” The radio spat out. I pressed my face up against it like a mime, unbelieving. Hours ticked by. Days. I didn’t move, I just stood there, listening to the screaming like a stature.
I awoke suddenly, feeling my stomach drop. Terrified, I opened my eyes, taking in my surroundings. “Ashley, wake up!” I heard Anne plead. Now I was fully alert. This plane was going down, quickly. Everywhere I turned, people were screaming, jumping out of their seats. The flight attendant came over the speakers, probably to tell us to put our life vests on. But before she could get a panicked word out, there was a crash, and everything became dark.
Seconds after the crash, I was still frozen in shock. We were now completely submerged in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I felt a light tapping on my shoulder. Panicked, I quickly brushed it away, looking for an impossible exit with my hands- realizing with repulsion that Anne and I were the only ones conscious on the plane. Then I looked back, seeing now that the tap was from Anne, pointing to a black hole at the top of the plane. Our escape. Selfishly, I rushed up to meet her, leaving behind all the men, women, and children who so clearly could not help themselves. I pushed my feet off the boat, my lungs becoming sour from lack of air. I grabbed onto Anne’s raisin-like wrinkled fingers with a death grip, and didn’t let go until we surfaced seconds later. The process, which had felt like the entirety of my life, had lasted under two minutes.
When Anne and I surfaced, the first thing I did was let out the strangest, most blood-curdling scream I had ever in my life. It was almost as if my calmness in the past few minutes had been building up to this moment of utter terror. The water around us was stained brown and red, splotches of blood and layers of makeup washing away that we had both so meticulously applied earlier that day. Anne was still silent, her eyes wide, and her head bobbing up and down in sync with the pattern of the waves.
“Anne?” I asked. When I got no reply, I asked again, but louder this time, “Anne?” Finally, as I realized the truth of this hideous situation, a single, salted tear sprung down my face. The worst part of it all was that I didn’t even miss her. That the single tear that I had shed was not in remembrance of my beautiful older sister, my sister who had taught me how to pitch a softball and had always baked me a strawberry cake on my birthday as a child. No, that tear was for my own, selfish fear that without her, I would surely die. Surely.
It’s amazing how quickly after my sister’s death I was able to slip back into reality. One salty, pitiful tear and I was done, in survival mode. I pushed her corpse away with one manicured finger, slipping off her gold bracelet and diamond earrings before doing so, of course, and began to look for shelter.
Looking around, all I could see was a patch of land, probably the size of the backyard of my apartment building in Beverly Hills. The problem was, it was roughly a half-mile away. Suddenly conscious of the fact that sharks, eels, and whales could be swimming along right next to me, I took off quickly, trying to utilize all the skills that I could from the thousands of dollars my mom and Richard put into teaching me how to swim. When I was about halfway there, I stopped, exhausted. As I floated in the cool waters, I realized that exercise hadn’t been my “thing” at home. It would, however, be helpful if I wanted to be rescued by nightfall. I made it ashore an hour later. I stumbled onto a ledge of rock, hoping the rescue team would find me there, and fell asleep.
I woke in the middle of the night, startled. I had heard a noise creeping through the thicket of the island. I figured it was probably the wind, but I was not at ease. At home, I wouldn’t even stay in a hotel room alone, let alone a stranded island. Trying to prove to myself that I was not afraid, I tried to go back to sleep. It didn’t work. My stomach was rumbling, and I was cold, really cold. Despite the warm breeze and my best efforts, my teeth began to chatter, unrelenting, for hours. I felt so trapped. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and let out a scream- similar to the scream I had produced earlier that day, but with less anger, and more helplessness. I felt like an orphan to the rest of the world, unclaimed by this vast new land. I was on high alert all night, finally allowing myself to succumb to sleep when the first light of dawn appeared. A few hours later, the squawking of a large bird awakened me. It was lying on the ground next to me, thrashing around like a fish out of water. Finally, it’s struggle ended, and it went limp, every one of it’s strained muscles easing until the squawking stopped, and the breaths became long and labored, until they stopped coming at all. Disgusted, I walked over and threw up in the ocean. I watched my old life float away with each crashing wave.
Later that day, I jumped at the sound of a deep rumbling, feeling my whole body shake from its immense power. After going through a list in my mind of what it may have been (tsunami, earthquake, end of world, etc.) I understood what it was when it came again, accompanied by a sharp pain in my stomach. Seeing that the most survival experience I’d had was watching Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away, I decided that I’d try to follow his character’s lead and attempt to catch a fish. I told myself it was exactly like eating sushi from home, except fresher. Yet even as I said this to myself, my stomach churned with repulsion. It didn’t matter- I had to eat. I fixed my hair, and set out to the edge of the ocean. Walking in, I remembered that I was still wearing my high-heeled shoes from yesterday. They caught in the wet sand, keeping me captive for a few moments, until I could yank them free, inching closer and closer to the shoreline. I tore off my shoes, threw them onto the beach, and began to walk back in, barefoot this time. The thick sand sloshed around under my feet, and I giggled in amusement at the way the specks of sand each individually tickled my toes and feet, daring them to walk a step further. I had never walked barefoot on the beach before- although for a time my family went and spent the entire summer at a beach house in Hawaii, my mother always made sure I wore sandals or boots, assuring me that walking around barefoot was a sure-fire way to not being a proper lady.
Feeling completely exposed to the chilly ocean waters, I began to grab at every fish I could find. Since I had nothing to fish with, I tried to catch with my hands, then with a stick. Eventually, I was so exhausted that I sat down in the water up to my neck, pushing the end of my sister’s diamond earrings down onto anything that stirred on the ocean floor. I accidentally stuck it in my leg twice by the time the sun had set. This milestone caused me to feel a new kind of urgency. I was now not only the most hungry I’d been in my life, but also I had to find water, and soon. I remembered from my 3rd grade class that humans could only survive for two days without water. This thought frightened me, and I knew I had to act fast. Desperate, I scooped my hands into the silky edge of the ocean floor, and took a drink. Immediately, I spat it back up. How stupid can I be? I thought. I knew that drinking this salty water just dehydrated me even further, giving me less time to act. I was beginning to feel extremely weak, and I didn’t know how much longer I would be able to stand and move around without food and water. After debating for a good half hour, I decided that I had no other choice but to eat the dead bird. The clouds in the sky were furrowing up, looking ominous to the weary traveller but to me, they showed promise for a decent drink of water. Slowly, I walked over to the dead bird, looking into its lifeless eye. I gagged, considering my options, disappointed by how few I had. I thought of my mom and Vicky at home, if they would care if I died or not on this terrible island. I wondered if they had felt the same way I had when Anne and Richard had died- searching for a connection, a tear to offer- but coming up empty. The thought sent a shiver up my spine, alerting me back to the problem at hand. I grabbed a pointed rock, and began to tear at the poor bird’s flesh until the red blood seeped through. Then came the fat. Thick, white chunks of fat began oozing out of the cuts. Unable to wait even a second longer contemplating my options, I held the bird up over my head, cringing. “Ewewewewew,” I complained. The fat dripped down from the torn-up carcass, festering on my lips until I opened my mouth and swallowed. I nodded, accepting the fact that this may be the worst thing I had ever tasted. The bird was eaten to the bone in less than three minutes. I lay down under the ledge, and fell asleep.
I couldn’t sleep. I had the awful feeling in the pit of my stomach that I was losing sight of who I was. I mean, it’s not like I’m some great person or anything or I could change the world in any was, but I couldn’t bear the thought of losing myself on this island. Every night before I went to bed, I would dig a hole in the sand next to me, a kind of a safe to put my sister’s earrings and bracelet in. I hadn’t taken my clothes off since I’d arrived, too afraid that if I lost them, I would forget who I was. I valued these things over my basic necessities- food, water, and shelter. I could go longer without food and water than I could with my sister’s jewelry. It’s odd the things that matter most when you’re whole world comes crashing down.
The next couple of weeks, a whale surfaced in the same place, about a half-mile away, from morning till mid afternoon. I named her Meredith, after a childhood friend. Her eye let off a glimmer in the early morning, reflecting off like a light bulb. I talked at her for hours, arranging plans for me to hop on her back and her to take me back home. In my mind, she agreed.
Meredith quickly became a sense of constancy for me, I soon began to better count the days based on her arrival. Eight weeks had passed since the plane crash. During those 56 days, I had learned so much. I learned to fish, to start a fire (not as easy as it looks, by the way). I learned to collect morning dew from leaves, how to fearlessly sleep alone under the stars. But most of all, I learned how to be independent, and fend for myself.
I had cut off most of my god-awful ringlet hair, and my manicured fingers were hanging on by a thread. One day, I caught a glimpse of myself on an especially sunny day, in a reflection on the oceans surface. I studied myself very closely, like I had the day I had gotten on the plane. Looking at myself now, my makeup all washed away and my face covered in a thin mask of mud, I began to smile. My teeth were yellow and smelled of raw fish. I hadn’t had a proper bathing in two months. My entire body- especially my feet- were calloused and dirty, stronger than they had ever been. I looked powerful, and for once, I felt powerful. And looking at my reflection, things finally slid into place. I was never beautiful. I wouldn’t have ever been beautiful, if I hadn’t been in that fateful plane crash. I knew now what people meant when they said that beauty came from within. I felt that now, that I was truly beautiful now. That I had a beautiful heart and a beautiful soul, ready to escape and share my newfound joy with the world. “I’m ready,” I said, staring at Meredith in the background. “I’m ready!” As tears streamed down my face, I looked through blurry eyes at Meredith. For the first time, I questioned why she surfaced for hours, every day. I questioned why she towered above everything else, even far away. I stood on top of the rock ledge, the same one I had slept on my first night on the island.
I saw the fog close in around the mysterious object, like it did everyday. I had assumed this was just Meredith floating away, back into the endless ocean. I stared in disbelief. Meredith was not a loyal whale, returning back every day to say hello. She was a lighthouse, about a mile away, standing eloquently against the foggy afternoon. I was in shock. Slowly, I walked further and further into the ocean, making sure I was right. Now, swimming was much easier for me. I went as fast as my body would let me, pushing through my burning lungs until I landed ashore. I pulled myself onto the sand, and walked up to the door. Slowly, I began to knock. A man answered the door, looking puzzled, eyes wide. Tears of joy began to flood my face, and embraced him in a hug. I hadn’t seen another human being in over two months. I was speechless, all I could get out was, “Meredith? Is that you?” After the initial shock, I recovered. I went inside, and told this handsome stranger everything, starting from nine weeks ago, when my car broke down. We never stopped talking. Through all the talking, we were married, and had a little girl named Meredith. Through all the talking, we lived and we died. I cannot express how thankful I am for that terrible crash- the one that almost took my life but instead gave me a bright new one. Sometimes, all it takes is to look at things with a different perspective.